In April, scientists at Tel Aviv University “printed” the world’s first 3D vascularized heart using a patient’s own cells and biological material. This is just the tip of the medical iceberg. We expect healthcare to change in the next decade as disruptive technologies promise to improve patient outcomes, making medicine more personalized, effective, and interconnected.
The Path to Personal Care: Genetics
How similar do you think you are to a banana? You actually share 60% of your genetic code with this healthy snack. DNA is the core building block of every living thing, and minute changes in genetic codes are responsible for unbelievable differences between us. From 23andMe DNA tests providing personalized reports about your ancestry to Igentify revolutionizing genetic testing and counseling, scientists are harnessing our understanding of genetics to provide real value to society.
Medicine still relies heavily on general population statistics. The doctor evaluates your symptoms, considers your age, weight, family health history, and ultimately determines treatment. But far too often we simply do not respond and return to the doctor, having wasted money, effort, and time.
Soon, medicine will cater therapeutics to the individual. take cancer as an example: today’s treatment plans often include physically removing a tumor. It is an invasive process and falls short of addressing metastasized cancers and their underlying causes. Systemic treatments are limited, and even when they work it can take a number of therapy cycles to find the right drug. In order to prevent that, Barcode Diagnostics designed a patented-protected technology to assist oncologists in identifying the most effective chemotherapy cocktail before the patients’ first treatment.
AlphaTAU is on the cutting-edge of cancer therapy, treating solid tumors with radioactive seeds that release short-lived alpha-emitting atoms. Cancer care of the future will involve evaluating your genome, examining the DNA of your specific cancer, and tailoring a gene therapy treatment that allows your body to fight off the disease at its core.
Cut The Line! No More Organ Transplant Waiting-Lists
Twenty people die every day waiting for an organ transplant in the United States, and a new patient is added to that waiting-list every 10 minutes. There simply are not enough human organs available. But breakthrough research like the 3D-printed heart at Tel Aviv University will hopefully relegate the organ shortage crisis to history. As we deepen our understanding of tissue growth and cell differentiation, the new approach is to grow functional organs from scratch, or potentially engineer drugs that can genetically stimulate tissue regeneration and cure damaged organs. Nexa3D is already developing fast, accurate 3D printing technology for dental applications.
Ultimately the hope is that these synthetic organs will meet the great demand.
Advanced biomaterials will be critical in surgery as well. Current approaches to bone injuries and aneurysms, for example, involve implanting artificial materials such as metal rods, stents, or coils. But infection is the most serious complication in implant surgery, with up to 40% of cases resulting in infection. The future of this field lies in advanced biodegradable and bio-integrative material. Ossio is on the cutting-edge of this frontier, recently having received FDA approval for Ossiofiber, a strong implant material that completely integrates into bone leaving nothing permanent behind. In a similar vein, Nanomedic has developed nanospun electrofiber technology to produce a transient skin layer that mimics the structure of the human extracellular matrix, providing dramatic benefits for wound and burn patients.
Unlocking the Brain
People are living longer than ever before and although our bodies are healthier, our brains cannot keep up. Some estimates indicate that there is a new dementia patient somewhere in the world every 3 seconds. Yet, our ability to understand, diagnose, and treat neurological dysfunction is lagging. This knowledge gap has made neuroscience one of the hottest topics in scientific research. Companies like INSIGHTEC explore paradigm-shifting approaches to neurological therapeutics. Its MR-guided focused ultrasound technology precisely heats specific areas in the brain to treat essential tremors, tremor-dominant Parkinson’s disease, and neuropathic pain. In 2018, the company completed its first human trial in Alzheimer’s, giving new hope to those affected by the disease and their families.
Our understanding of the incredibly complex brain is rapidly improving with innovations like elminda’s BNA technology. It leverages advanced machine-learning algorithms to provide more comprehensive knowledge of neural networks.
Surgical Interventions: R2-D2 Takes the Wheel
Even our best surgeons are subject to human error and physical limitations. Fortunately, as surgeries become more technology-dependent, we are moving towards more precise, less invasive procedures. Memic has developed robotic arms controlled by surgeons with 360-degree articulation, allowing for safer, less invasive procedures in previously inaccessible areas. Currently, INSIGHTEC’s solution requires doctors to select a point on a brain scan before letting the machine do the rest. We are already seeing robot-assisted surgery where advanced technologies are extending upon human capabilities.
The Digital Health Revolution
Big data is now being used to compare millions of imaging scans to improve our diagnostics. Soon, we will ask Alexa to turn up the lights — and tell us our lab results. How many times have you debated between feeling miserable at work or driving to the doctor’s office for a short but expensive consultation? Imagine if you could quickly get the diagnosis and prescriptions you need from your bed. Companies like TytoCare are moving us in that direction, providing a handheld exam kit and mobile application that enables you to connect with healthcare providers from anywhere.
Wearable devices are starting to provide continuous medical care, tracking vital signs, glucose levels, blood count, and more. Global Kinetics Corporation has developed a wearable sensor and advanced analytics system for tracking symptoms of movement disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease. Patients’ data is automatically sent to their physician, allowing doctors to monitor symptoms remotely and optimize treatment plans based on objective data, as opposed to subjective patient self-reporting.
Healthcare of the future will go a step farther, pairing wearable monitors with advanced algorithms capable of treating patients without the need for a present physician. The DreaMed Advisor Pro cloud-based artificial intelligence algorithm converts real-time patient data into actionable insulin treatment insights for diabetes management. This technology could be the final piece of the puzzle for the long sought-after “artificial pancreas.”
A digital revolution in medical record keeping is also on the horizon. Health records today are dispersed among our various providers. The Medical Brain, by healthPrecision creates a patient-centered platform by collecting all of an individual’s medical information in one place. Meanwhile, advanced sensors could eventually track and diagnose maladies through images, breath tests, and other non-invasive techniques.
Zebra Medical Vision’s AI powered imaging analytics engine can instantaneously compare an image to millions of other scans, and alert providers of high-risk patients
Data analytics and machine learning are being integrated into medical practice, providing detailed insights and observations beyond human capabilities. Experienced radiologists look at scans and compare them to thousands of images they have seen throughout their careers. Now, Zebra Medical Vision’s AI-powered imaging analytics engine can instantaneously compare an image to millions of other scans and alert providers of high risk patients.
This big data model is being applied well beyond imaging. Medaware is using artificial intelligence and big data analytics to eliminate prescription errors, preventing mistakes that are both dangerous and costly. BrainQ has made tremendous progress developing a cure for paralysis by applying machine learning to neuropathology. Advanced algorithms are starting to draw macroscopic conclusions about people from extremely subtle character traits.
Tech giants like Google, Amazon, and Apple already have access to our personal information. These companies are beginning to apply big data to healthcare and are quickly taking over this space in terms
of investments, research initiatives, launchpads, and M&A activity.
Smart-watches and other wearable monitors will connect to our phone applications and centralize our healthcare information. With their endless access to big data, advanced AI algorithms, and excessive capital, today’s high-tech giants might be the world’s leading healthcare providers within the next 10 years.
It is clear that healthcare is becoming more automated and precise. And through combined efforts, scientists, medical and technological experts, business leaders, and venture capitalists will tackle unmet clinical needs.
This is an excerpt from OurCrowd’s Q2 Innovation Insider, download it here.
About the Authors
Betina Tabah, Business Development Manager and Life Sciences Lead, OurCrowd
Zachary Spiera, Analyst, Medical Team, OurCrowd